Review: Bayonetta 2

Developer: Platinum Games - Publisher: Nintendo - Platform: Wii U - Release Date: October 14, 2014

Concept: Bayonetta struts her stuff exclusively on Wii U, topping her first outing in every possible way.

Graphics: I far prefer Bayonetta's new look to her original incarnation. Angel designs are still wildly creative and adding demons to the mix adds a nice splash of variety. The enviornments are also far more interesting and memorable than in the first game

Sound: The dreamy pop soundtrack remains weirdly appropriate. The mostly cheesy dialogue ranges from humorous to eye-rolling

Playability: Incredibly slick combat bulwarked by the responsive Witch Time counter system. The GamePad handles the fast-paced action far better than I expected but the touch commands do nothing for me.

Entertainment: An unbelivably fun, heart-racing thrill ride that seems hellbent on one-upping every insane battle or sequence it throws at you

Replay Value: Very High

I've Been Bewitched

Bayonetta burst onto the scene in 2010 to positive reviews but garnered only modest sales in leaving a huge question mark as to whether the sultry witch would ever have an encore. After some unsuccessful bids at finding a publisher, Nintendo stepped in to fund the sequel, scoring themselves a high profile, third-party exclusive in the process. It was money well spent. Bayonetta 2 is the not only one of the standout titles in the Wii U library, it's best action game of 2014 period.

Combat remains largely unchanged which isn't a problem as it was great to begin with. Combos are easy to execute, the elaborate torture attacks are both grusome and hilarious, and finishing off foes with an assortment of over-the-top summoning sequences. Nailing the slick and responsive Witch Time dodge - which briefly slows time just before taking a hit - is still ultra-satisfying. Building up your assault triggers the awesome new Umbra Climax for a devastating, screen-filling flurry. The cool assortment of weapons (which include swords, bows, whips, among others) can be equipped to both Bayonetta's hands and feet and two load-outs can be swapped on the fly, adding even more depth and flexibility to an already-great combat scheme.

I was pleasantly surprised by how great the GamePad feels as I had doubts it'd be a comfortable option a crazy action game. Touchscreen controls offer an alternative for less-skilled players - with a few simple swipes, entire combo strings are let loose. My issue with this option, though, is that it forces you to stare at the smaller (and inferior) screen constantly and your fingers wind up obscuring much of the action. Beginning players are better off simply playing the game on Easy as it'll still be a breeze plus while enjoying the game the way it's meant to be.

New abilities are much easier to acquire than in the first game thanks to larger halo drops from enemies. I was able to buy every combo and a few accessories without ever replaying a stage. The ease in progression is welcomed as it means faster access to the game's best content. You'll still need to revisit chapters to have a prayer of unlocking everything, but that's hardly a chore when the experience is as enjoyable as it is.

The enemy variety is fantastic. In addition to angels, Bayonetta must also contend with the monsters of Inferno to add a fresh angle to encounters. Demon designs share the same wild imagination as their heavenly counterparts, from gigantic manta ray-like flyers to a vindictive plant woman to a molten lava tarantula, and so much more. All of the baddies have distinct abilities and the game does a great job of mixing up enemy pairings to create varied and challenging confrontations.

Boss fights are still epic in scope and chock full of absurdity. The best of them by far are with the mysterious, masked Lumen Sage: a holy ass-kicker on par with the Umbra Witch. He matches you in strength and speed and, like Bayonetta, can summon divine creatures that duke it out with your demonic summons to create evenly-matched spectacles. If you're a fan of the Vergil fights in the Devil May Cry or with Jeanne in the first game, this guy just might blow them out of the water and I found myself wishing he had a hundred life-bars so that our battles would never end.

A diverse amount of gameplay scenarios shake things up even further. Some sections feature shifting, crumbling terrain reminiscent of the most recent Devil May Cry game. Many aerial shooting sequences offer solid entertainment and underwater exploration doesn't stick up the room, which is rare. One of my favorite sequences has Bayonetta fighting on a rotating sphere for some Mario Galaxy-esque action. There's even a ridiculous mech combat sequence that sounds awful on paper but is surprisingly fun in practice. Bayonetta 2 isn't afraid to throw something completely different at you and nothing falls flat.

Environments are also far more memorable this time around. While a small handful of stages, such the opening city area, are decidedly bland they're forgiven by areas such as the radiant world of Paridiso and Inferno's unique rainforest-like setting. You'll get to know stages intimately as you scour them for Umbra crows, Challenge Rooms, new Umbra Tombs that task you with collecting scattered pieces within a time limit, and Luka's journals that add interesting bits of lore.

As far as the plot goes, I can't decide if it's more or less convoluted than the first game's narrative but it's definitely grander in scope. The set-up is simple enough: Bayonetta's bestie, Jeanne, is killed during the opening battle, forcing her into a race against the clock to rescue Jeanne's soul from Hell before it's lost forever. Things take a turn for the crazy when she encounters a mouthy kid possessing special powers and a case of amnesia who is tied to a larger plot involving the truth behind the witch hunts that eradicated Bayonetta's kind, the impeding destruction of the world, and other crazy stuff involving time travel and maybe even alternate realities. You'll definitely want a good Wiki open to keep up with the crazier stuff, but the story is stupidly entertaining and catching up with the series offbeat cast made me realize that I missed them more than I thought - corny as some of them are.

The new co-op mode isn't the deepest experience but works extremely well for what it is. Two players team up online (local play is not an option, unfortunately) to tear though a series of individual battles with the goal being to win six straight. Difficulty is determined by the number of halos bet beforehand, making it a neat alternative to farm cash. I wish you could create a playlist of fights instead of having to return to the menu every time and unlocking additional characters could be simpler. Still, enjoying the gonzo action with a friend is awesome and leaves me hoping for a full co-op campaign mode for Bayonetta 3 - if that ever happens.

Bayonetta 2 is the best kind of sequel; one that improves upon it's predecessor in every way. With bigger set-piece moments, friendlier progression, and a new avenue to share the wacky fun with others, I can't think of a single thing the first game does better - even Bayonetta's new look is superior. Bayonetta's sophomore outing is the best non-first party argument for owning a Wii U and a definite must-play for both fans and action aficionados alike.

The Complete Saga

As an added bonus, the original Bayonetta is included with the sequel. This enhanced version comes with Nintendo-themed costumes and attacks - you can dress Bayonetta up as icons like Samus, Link, or Fox while conjuring things like a Bowser's massive foot during attacks. This is awesome for new fans to catch up on the story while the Nintendo stuff offers an even sillier reason for the Bayonetta faithful to experience her first adventure all over again.

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